VAIRA, Francis J.
The Greatest Generation has lost another member. Francis 'Fran' Jerald Vaira passed away peacefully Wednesday, September 12, 2012, at the age of 88 years. Born in Plymouth, CA, on June 22, 1924, Fran grew up on the family ranch in Drytown, CA.
Fran was the fourth child in a family of eight children born to the late Marion Esther (Papineau) and Antone Joseph Vaira. His Grandfather came to Drytown from the Piedmont area of northern Italy to establish the family ranch in 1884. Fran was preceded in death by his brothers Everett, Clarence, Leslie, Chester, and his sisters Tessie (Pantle), Lois (Spinetti), and Helen (Robbins).
After graduating from Sutter Creek High School in 1942, Fran joined the war effort by enlisting in the U.S. Marines, serving as an electronics instructor at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In 1945, he volunteered to ship out to the Pacific and went ashore on the first day of the invasion of Okinawa, on Easter Sunday, after already participating in the Philippines Campaign and the Leyte Gulf invasion. It was his duty to set-up the early-warning-radar equipment to alert American troops of incoming Japanese war planes. Fran was Honorably Discharged in 1945, having earned a Good Conduct Medal, many Campaign Ribbons, and being one of the youngest Master Sergeants in the Marine Corps.
Returning home, Fran graduated from San Jose State College. Fran married June Winter of Ione, on August 12, 1950, and recently celebrated 62 loving years together while raising three children.
In 1951, Fran began his education career at Jackson High School as an Industrial Arts and Math Teacher as well as a Counselor. Fran's love of sports led him to coaching football, basketball, and baseball-he was associated with 14 team championships in his 11 years of coaching. In 1961, The Sacramento Bee named Fran as the Mother Lode Athletic League coach of the year.
In the early 60's, Fran was appointed as the Principal of Jackson High School and Superintendent of the newly created Jackson Unified School District. Early on, Fran was faced with a student population that had outgrown their classrooms. Fran's vision led the District to the purchase of a 40-acre site for a new school at the quiet intersection of Stoney Creek Road and Argonaut Lane. The multi-phased campus for Jackson High School was completed in 1976-known currently as Argonaut High School. The location was large enough for expansion over the years, with acreage for a multi-sport athletic complex for both boys and girls sports which was respectfully dedicated as the Francis J. Vaira Athletic Complex in 1983. This tribute coincided with Fran's retirement from education after 32 years.
Fran's commitment to the community was evident throughout his life. In the 1950's, he initiated the summer recreation program for children which was a joint effort with the City of Jackson and the School District. He continued as the Recreation Director for many years. He helped the 18-30 Club draw-up a master plan for the expansion of Detert Park which included designated play areas, tennis courts, a baseball field as well as picnic and BBQ areas.
In the early 1960's, Fran was instrumental in the unique design and construction of the Amador County Library which was built over the creek in 1965.
Fran was also a member of the Amador Masonic Lodge #65. In the late 80's, Fran served for several years as President and on the Board of Directors for the Amador County Farm Bureau. With his interest in the youth of the County, he broadened the reach of the organization with projects like supporting the Junior Livestock Auction at the Amador County Fair.
Fran's retirement also gave him time to be a volunteer van driver for Amador STARS transporting local cancer patients to their treatments in Sacramento, Stockton or Lodi.
Fran was elected as a member of the Jackson City Counsel, serving four years beginning in 1990 with appointment as Mayor for two years to again put his leadership skills into action.
In the mid-1990's, Fran was recruited to co-lead the 2nd phase of fund raising for the soon-to-be-built Sutter Amador Hospital which opened in 2000.
Over the years, Fran enjoyed participating in the many service activities of the Jackson Lions Club. With his passion for education, Fran 'chaired' the Scholarship Committee for several years resulting in an expanded offering of financial awards for students furthering their education.
Another dream of Fran's came true when he returned to working the ranch which is how he had lived his boyhood. Fran, along with his brother Chester and their wives, developed a cow-calf operation on their ranches located in Fiddletown and Ione. They took great pride in raising premium, grass-fed Black Angus cattle.
One of Fran's favorite activities was to share the ranches with family and friends-for picnics, for fishing, for relaxing and pointing out the late-spring Mariposa Lilies.
Fran is survived by his loving wife, June (Winter). He will forever be remembered by his beloved children Dale, wife Darlene, Jim, and Karen, husband Steve, and two cherished grandchildren, Sarah and Adam. Additionally, Steve's daughter Nelia Gustafson, husband Erik, and their sons Patrick and Thomas. As the Vaira family patriarch, Fran leaves behind many favorite nieces and nephews.
Friends are invited to attend the funeral service Friday, September 21, 2012, at 11:00 AM. Visitation will be held on Thursday, September 20, from 4-8 PM; both at the Daneri Mortuary Chapel, 415 Broadway, Jackson, CA. Interment will be at the Keystone Mausoleum, Sunset View Cemetery in Jackson. In Lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to either Amador STARS (Support Transportation and Resource Service), P.O. Box 208, Jackson, CA 95642, or The Jackson Lions Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 64, Jackson, CA 95642. Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting www.danerimortuary.com and signing the guest book.
Published in The Sacramento Bee on September 16, 2012